In 1967, Arthur Koestler introduced the theory of holarchy (The Ghost in the Machine) to discuss a model for how natural systems are organized. He coined the term “holon” for an entity that was whole in and of itself and also part of a greater whole; a whole-part. Koestler suggested that as individuals we are each a whole becoming part of a greater and more complex whole. In holarchy: An example would be: As letters make up words, and words make up paragraphs, and paragraphs make up pages, and pages make up books, so too are we organized psychologically, physically and socially in ever-increasing complexity.
Interestingly, holarcy also proposes that at each level of complexity, which is more than the sum of the parts, something unique and powerful happens which becomes important to the development or environmental sustainability theory. The simplest rule of holarchy is that if you take away holons of lesser complexity the more complex ones disappear. So in our example of books: No letters and there are no words, no words mean no sentences, and so on. Koestler's concept of holarchy is open-ended, both in the macrocosmic as well as in the microcosmic dimensions. This implicates that if we take string theory to be legitimate, the holarchic system does not begin with strings or end with the multiverse; instead those are limits of the human mind in the two dimensions.
As practitioners, patients we must also look at our patients through the lens of holarchy. Our patients are individual systems that are all parts of a greater and more complex whole. Each part of our patient (each organ or cell) is also a part of a greater whole. We must look at each part of our patient within the context of the greater wholes in order to achieve maximum wellness. If we do this, then we will be able to offer truly holistic healthcare and individualized services to our patients. We must look at all the layers that can be affecting our patients health and address them all simultaneously. This is what will lead to maximum wellness with our patients.
Holon Theory drives the idea of holistic health. Which as a practitioner I believe in through and through.
Dr. Alice Lee provides an excellent definition of holistic psychiatry on her website:
"Holistic Psychiatry values each individual as a unified whole, consisting of mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and environmental forces that simultaneously and equally affect health and well-being. A holistic psychiatrist is trained in the use of conventional, nutritional/ functional/ orthomolecular medicine, and mind-body/energy medicine, to heal individuals at all levels of being, to restore a state of optimal mental and physical health, as naturally and efficiently as possible."
The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine provides a great definition for “integrative medicine” on their website:
Integrative Medicine (IM) is healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies.
“Defining Principles of Integrative Medicine:”
1. Patient and practitioner are partners in the healing process.
2. All factors that influence health, wellness, and disease are taken into consideration, including mind, spirit, and community, as well as the body.
3. Appropriate use of both conventional and alternative methods facilitates the body’s innate healing response.
4. Effective interventions that are natural and less invasive should be used whenever possible.
5. Integrative medicine neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically.
6. Good medicine is based in good science. It is inquiry-driven and open to new paradigms.
7. Alongside the concept of treatment, the broader concepts of health promotion and the prevention of illness are paramount.
8. Practitioners of integrative medicine should exemplify its principles and commit themselves to self-exploration and self-development.